Monday, July 25, 2016

                                          In Madrid I met you one day
                                    Thinking things that I could not say
                                    Drinking wine in a tapas bar ……..
    It was one of those hot days in Madrid and I trudged off to work in my suit and incongruous clogs which I had picked up surprisingly in England and not Holland as one might expect.  My hangover was quite dull for 7:30 in the morning and I arrived at school just about on time to give my 8 o’clock lesson.
         How did a young Irish man end up in Madrid when he had sworn (maybe not to God but to someone) never to visit that country again. Well that is another story for another day.
       “Good morning David”, Jenny said in a sort of inquiring tone. She was the co-ordinator of classes for the day and wanted me to reply to see in what sort of a mood I was in so that she could do her job and give me the kind of class I deserved for having such a good time last night.
     Jenny was really English, almost pretty but made up for a turning eye with a good figure and some excellent dress sense.  Is that what one calls it? I was never quite sure then and am still no wiser some thirty years later.
    “Bonjour” I replied to annoy her. As English teachers we were forbidden to speak Spanish, so I always liked to throw in a bit of French.  Not that I was good with languages. I was trained as a scientist but was far too romantic to mix chemistry and sex in one beaker.
“Big night then?” she asked.   “No, just the usual” I replied laconically hoping that she would not see through my eyes exactly how I felt.
Perhaps at this point I should digress to explain just what a night I had.

“Goodie” she said (how I hate that word) “I have a great day set up for you!”    What she meant was I have a favour to ask of you, but what the heck, it means the same thing.  “Penny has taken the day off to go to Toledo or Cuenca and I have entrusted you with her lunch time student.”
    Now Penny was one of the other co-ordinators; slightly plump with real rosy English cheeks. She had taken a liking to me early on. I presumed it was because she found out I played reasonable bridge and was therefore in the same mode (upper middle class) as herself.   She had a good BBC accent and was an extremely good teacher. Her behaviour in bed was well up to scratch.  Unfortunately, I like to have a chase instead of a presentation and I suggested she should try one of my friends. She did, but the foursome never really worked out for reasons obvious to everyone else.  
“Great”, I mumbled.
“You don’t look too enthused” she said making an attempt to sound cool with a bit of modern lingo.
“Oh sorry” I replied. “Who are the students?”
“I think I said student”, she stated, “A certain Señor Cortez, who is the managing director of RNE”. 
I was going to ask who or what was RNE when it was at home.  As my brain had not quite started to function, I passed that question knowing I could ask him later if it seemed important.
    Now the deal at this business school was that the girls got to take their male student out to lunch to further their grasp of the English language in a real life situation. We drones only got to do that when all the girls had already been assigned a student. So today I was going to score a good lunch, Spanish style which meant a good wine and some brandy for afters.
My first few lessons went quite smoothly; a beginner trying to get ahead in the banking division and an air hostess, who I became very friendly with at a later date. Señor Cortez arrived punctually at 10:55 and showed his obvious disappointment at not having his usual Señorita professora.
“Good morning” I started off with. (Well I could hardly say “how’s about you son” which would be a little too Northern Irish for him!)
“Penny not here?” he inquired dolefully.
“Sorry no, “I said. “She has gone to Segovia or Cuenca”.
“Ah yes” he immediately stated, “to see the ……  how do you say it in English; waterfell?”
“Close”, I replied, “Waterfalls”
“Ah yes of course. Waterfalls”, he stated dutifully as the student should always repeat the correct word.  Well that was probably the only mistake he made during the course of the next few hours. He read perfectly out of the Scientific American magazine. Now as I said, I studied science at uni and I thought I would have him in this regard. Not to be. I thought I would get him with the various meanings of “look”.  For example; “look up to someone”, “look through someone”, “look down at someone” etc.   He got me again.  “Da vid” he asked with the accent on the second syllable, “Can you put two of these together? “Can you look someone up and down”?
“Let’s go for lunch” I replied and off we went. Not to the fancy restaurant he would have taken Penny but to a local little Spanish one which was OK by me.
After a few red wines, we both relaxed and we talked about various things. I learned a little about the towns of Pinto and Valdemoro and he learned that I had lived in Andulucia some years earlier. Actually I had lived in a village called Torremolinos.
After lunch and a few cognacs he asked me if I would like to visit Malaga otra vez as he put it. “I am driving down to Granada for the weekend”, he said, “and we could speak English on the way”.  
“Porque no” I stated, just to show him I knew the odd word in Spanish. (I was not so confident in the restaurant and hid behind the notion that we were meant to speak English only!)
“Fantastic” he said without the Spanish o, “I will collect you at 3:30 at the school,” using his impeccable use of the future tense; not always easy for Spanish speaking people who have three ways of describing the future.
Now at this stage I should tell why I would want to go to Malaga for a weekend. It all happened about a week earlier. Penny had found two girls in the park who she thought needed a bit of help. Penny spoke reasonable Spanish and the two girls were somewhat lost. Christina was from Cleveland, Ohio in the States and Annie was from a property just outside Townsville, Queensland, Australia. Annie was quite street-wise but a little naïve. Christina was quite scatty and more than a little naïve. Needless to say they were both very blonde.
               Well Penny had put them right and got them a place to stay in some kind of cheap youth hostel. They had kept in touch with her and she had introduced me to them.
At this stage, I was glad to talk English. I had tried my luck with a few Spanish girls but I always seem to get a headache from trying to concentrate on communicating with them with my very poor Spanish. 
So while Christina and Annie were easy to talk with at the beginning, they seemed a bit shallow after an hour of drinking cheap wine.  They had met in London but decided on a cheap adventure in Europe using their Euro-rail pass. They had tried Amsterdam, Paris and were obviously now in Madrid. I suppose at some stage, I had boasted about my time in the Costa del Sol and they had decided to go there.
                 “What’s the best place to go David in this Costa del Sol?” Annie asked me.
“Well it really depends on how much dinero you have to spend.” I replied. 
“If you have lots of money, then Marbella is the place.  Fuengirola is a bit cheaper. Estepona is average and Malaga is the big city. If you are unsure where to go, then Torremolinos is the place.”
“Did you like living in Torremolinos?” Chris asked me.
It was Chris now that we had known each other for a few days. I felt I was making progress in that regard but I did not see much future.
“I suppose so,” I answered hoping that it did not appear as meaningless as it sounded. “It was really like living in two places.” I went on to explain.
“You see in the winter there were very few tourists.  Well maybe a few from Northern Scandinavia but they stuck to the hotels so you did not often meet them. So, Torremolinos was a great little pueblo where we all mixed in with the Spanish community very well.
“And what about the summer?” Annie asked impatiently. “What was it like in the summer?”
“Well for one thing, it was hot! AND it was overcrowded with tourists.  I personally blame James Michener.” I said.
“And who the hell is James Michener and what has he got to do with it?” Chris asked with an endearing smile I had not spotted before.
“He was, sorry
is an American author.” I replied authoritatively, then realising it was not a good idea to come over too strong with these girls I continued:
“He wrote this book called “The Drifters” and he dedicated, well not so much dedicated but wrote a chapter about Torremolinos and sort of set up a culture that it would be cool to visit the place.”
      The girls caught the Talgo the next day; bound for Malaga and the camping site just outside Torremolinos.  That was Monday and this was Friday. They should be well settled in I hoped.
Felipe (yes maybe we were friends now after a liquid lunch) did not arrive at 3:30. He did not arrive at 4 o’clock and by 4:15, I had just about given up. He arrived just before 4:30.
“Lo siento hombre!” he greeted me with. “Sorry mate, I just couldn’t get away from the office.”  
We have three Australian girls teaching at the school, so I suppose he must have had one of them recently teaching him.  I just don’t like being called “mate” by someone I have just met.
Off we set out of Madrid towards the South.  He rambled on about tennis and would you believe Politics. Well it was 1976. Franco had died in November the previous year, so Spain was about to get a dose of democracy.
“It’s the first time in my life I have ever voted Dav id and I am thrilled and frightened. Well not exactly frighted, more apprehensive. That is for my country, not for myself. We have too many candidates and no clear leader as yet. Juan Carlos certainly does not want any part of it.”
“Do you like soccer?” I asked hopefully trying to steer the conversation to something less controversial.
“Well believe it or not, I am a bit of a rugby fanatic”, he claimed. “Si, I lived just outside London for a few years and played socially when I was there.   I quite often drive up to France to watch the five nations.”
Now that explains a lot. Firstly, I now understand how he had obtained such a good accent and where he picked up a lot of useful English phrases, secondly, why we seem to get on so well. Rugby comes with a certain culture. Play hard on the field but best friends afterwards.  
We had a bit of a silence for a while; Felipe was probably tired talking inglés and I was just fatigued. The way one gets after sitting in a car for four hours and trying to be polite to someone I did not know that well. Of course he was a client of our school, so I could not let them down AND he might well describe any faux pas to his normally teacher Penny when we returned.
“I think we will stop here for a copa Da vid”. 
“Where are we anyway I asked” in a slightly tired voice.
“This is Manzanares ,  a well little pueblo.  Sorry, a good little village”, he hurriedly replied before I could correct him. “Well we are just about half-way there and I need something to keep me awake!”
He parked his up market Seat (the Spanish version of the Italian Fiat) close to a typical Spanish café that sold most things from olives to cognac and everything in between. He ordered two bocadillos;  cheese for me and ham for himself (the Spanish always like their jamón), and of course two coffees with a little brandy on the side.  We chatted mainly about how poor the English fare was and we were back on the road within twenty minutes.
“David, can you explain to me please about the situation in your country, or is it two countries,” he asked me after we were out of the town lights and after it seemed we had exhausted our trivial topics of conversation.
Now, to be truthful here, I have tried to be apolitical since my venture into politics when I attended university and was getting somewhat bored with my beakers and test-tubes!  Oh what the hell, I will give it a go.
“Felipe,” I started, “I can summarise it in one word.”
“Una palabra, Da vid and what would this informative word be?”
“I am sure you have already guessed it Felipe…. history; maybe a bit like the Jews and Arab situation or even the Basques in Spain.”
“Ah,” he interjects, “I think I get the message. Can I say ‘get the message’, it’s ok in English?”
“Perfecto hombre,” I replied in Spanish for no real reason. I think I was getting tired of this conversation before it had really begun.
“The origins of the problem stretch centuries back to the Anglo-Norman intervention of Ireland in 1167, when England first took an interest in the area. Despite some intermingling of the English and Irish population, the two were never completely united. As a result, two disparate populations, with differing interests, found themselves living in a small island side by side. These differences became more marked during the reign of Henry VIII. His break from Rome placed him at loggerheads with Catholic Europe and introduced religion into Irish politics for the first time.”
“Didn’t he marry one of our own Spanish girls, Caterina,” he ventured to keep himself in the conversation.
“Ah yes,” I replied, “I think she was called Katherine of Aragon.” Of course I knew who it was but being a science major, I did not want to appear too arrogant.
“Can you continue Da vid?”
“Yeah, well it gets a bit difficult here,” I began, “and complicated. Around 1685 King James II, a Catholic, became the King of England following the death of his brother Charles II. The English wanted a Protestant king and were determined to get rid of King James II. They invited the Protestant prince William of Orange of the Netherlands to take the throne which he did.  How are you going Felipe? Are you with me?”
“I presume Da vid that you mean do I understand the story so far?”
“Exactly,” I responded. ”Most Irish people wanted to get the throne back for James and they fought a battle in 1690 just North of Dublin. It was called the battle of the Boyne. The Protestants in Northern Ireland still celebrate the victory to this day and of course this is not popular in the catholic community.”
“I think I saw something on television about that. Is it around the middle of the summer?”
“You are almost correct,” I replied. “We call it the ‘twelfth of July celebrations’. There are lots of parades and the marchers tend to wear these orange sashes.”
“Why orange?”
“Well William, believe it or not was from Holland. He was called William of Orange so I suppose he came from a place called Orange.”
“So why are they still fighting?” he asked me.
“Well, as I said before, it is almost like two different peoples; two different cultures. As well as this, the catholic church, or so I am lead to believe, did not approve of mixed marriages and so there was not much integration between the two sides.”
“Fascinating!” he exclaimed.
“Well hold on Filipe, there is a lot more but I will reserve it for another time.”
And so we both fell silent. Me thinking of all the good times I spent in Belfast and him maybe thinking about what a crazy place Northern Ireland was at the time. Little did we both know that it would get a lot worse before it got better.


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